Ants are close relatives of bees and wasps. They are among the most common insects on earth. More than 12,000 species of ants have been identified worldwide.

Ants are social insects that live in large colonies. Colonies typically consist of three distinct castes: workers, queens and males. The queens lay eggs and are larger than the other ants. Female workers, who are sterile, forage for food, care for the nest, and defend the colony. Worker ants are the largest caste and are the ants most commonly seen by humans. Males do not participate in colony activities except to mate with the queens.

Depending on the species, new ant colonies are formed by either swarming or budding. Swarming occurs at certain times of the year, usually spring and early summer, when winged males and females leave the colony in mating flights. After mating, the males die and the mated females, or queens, establish new colonies. Alternatively, budding occurs when either workers or queens (from species with multiple queens) crawl to new locations to start new colonies.

Proper identification of ants is the first step in managing nuisance ant problems. People often confuse ants and termites, especially during swarming when winged forms of ants are often mistaken for winged termites. By examining the waist and antennae, you can easily tell them apart. Ants have narrow waists and “elbowed” or bent antennae. Termites have broad abdomens with no waist and straight, beaded antennae. Ants have hind wings smaller than front wings. Termites have front and hind wings that are about the same size.

If you have carpenter ants, you will see workers varying in size from 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Nuisance ants are usually smaller-1/8 to 1/4 inch. Also, carpenter ants will often leave piles of sawdust at nest openings and make rustling noises in the walls, ceilings, or floors.

Toxic pesticide sprays and dusts are poor choices in managing ant populations. Their use can make ant problems worse by causing colonies that reproduce by budding to split up into multiple colonies.(5) Most pesticide applications are not directed at the nest, and because in some species only 5 percent of a colony’s workers are out foraging at any one time, they can leave 95 percent of the colony intact.

Ordorous House Ants

This ant gets its name from the strong, rotten coconut-like smell it gives off when crushed. These tiny insects range in size from one-sixteenth of an inch to one-eighth of an inch long.


Odorous house ants like to eat sweets, especially melon.


Typically living for several years, these ants make their homes in exposed soil and wall cracks.


These ants do not pose a public health risk, but they can contaminate food and should be avoided.

Pavement Ants

Pavement ants get their name because they make their nests in or under cracks in pavement. They can infest structures.


These ants will eat almost anything, including insects, seeds, honeydew, honey, bread, meats, nuts and cheese.


These ants live in or under pavement cracks.


These ants do not pose a public health risk, but they can contaminate food and should be avoided.

Red Imported Fire Ants

Red imported fire ants nest in soil and build mound nests. They can infest garages.


These ants will build large mound nests, and will sting humans who come across a nest.


Red imported fire ants will build their nest mounds outdoors in landscape areas or near a structural foundation. The ant will gain entry to a building through holes or cracks.


The sting of a red imported fire ant is painful and often results in a raised welt that becomes a white pustule. Often, a person stung by a red imported fire ant receives multiple painful stings from more than one of the ants. Persons allergic to insect stings will react more severely.

Argentine Ants

Argentine ant colonies can grow to monumental size. Their colony borders sometimes cover entire habitats. Argentine ant queens also assist with foraging for food. The ant gives off a musty odor when crushed. Worker argentine ants are about one sixteenth of an inch long. Queen argentine ants are one eighth of an inch to one quarter of an inch long.


Argentine ants deposit trails continuously, instead of just from nest to food source. This habit ensures they do not waste time visiting the same area for food. They prefer to eat sweets but they will eat almost anything including meats, eggs, oils and fats.


Argentine ant colonies are located in wet environments near a food source.


Argentine ants do not pose a health threat, but they can contaminate food.

Pharoah Ants

Pharaoh ants have become a serious nuisance pest in hospitals, rest homes, apartment dwellings, hotels, grocery stores, food establishments and other buildings. They feed on a wide variety of foods including jellies, honey, shortening, peanut butter, corn syrup, fruit juices, baked goods, soft drinks, greases, dead insects and even shoe polish. Also, these ants gnaw holes in silk, rayon and rubber goods. In hospitals, foraging ants have been found in surgical wounds, I.V. glucose solutions, sealed packs of sterile dressing, soft drinks, water in flower displays and water pitchers. These ants are capable of mechanically transmitting diseases and contaminating sterile materials. Some feel Staphylococcus and Psuedomonas infections, occurring from time to time in hospitals, are associated with these ants.

Pharaoh ants are usually much harder to control than other ants because of their ability to disperse. There may be dozens or hundreds of colonies in a single hospital and when a few colonies are missed during control, populations will quickly rebound. About 90 percent of the colony remains hidden in the nest so even if 10 percent of the colony is killed by a residual pesticide, the remaining reservoir of ants is enormous. Conventional contact pesticide applications especially repellent products such as pyrethrins may spread infestations to new areas with multiple colonies blossoming within the structure. These ants will avoid certain pesticides. Control is difficult and often long term (months to years), depending on the building size, wall voids, etc., especially in hospitals and food plants. Complete cooperation from the property manager and residents is essential for a successful control program.

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